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Director Claude Chabrol dies at 80

French helmer was part of New Wave movement

French filmmaker Claude Chabrol, one of the productive forefathers of the French New Wave, died Sunday in Paris. He was 80 and had been hospitalized with “severe anemia,” according to the New York Times.

One of his most well-known films was 1995’s “La Ceremonie,” which starred Chabrol delightedly punctured the pompous mores of the French bourgeoisie in films such as “An Unfaithful Wife” and “A Judgement in Stone.” Isabelle Huppert and Sandrine Bonnaire and won several film festival awards.

Chabrol was a beloved figure in France, but his films did not attract as much attention abroad as those of some of his New Wave contemporaries such as Francois Truffaut.

Cannes fest topper Thierry Fremaux told France-Info Radio, “Chabrol is part of our national patrimony … for his films and also for his personality,” according to the Associated Press.

In 2009 he received the Berlinale Camera Lifetime Achievement Award, neatly mirroring the Golden Bear he had won 50 years earlier for his second film, “Cousins.”

Like his New Wave colleagues Jean-Luc Godard, Eric Rohmer and Truffaut, Chabrol began developing his ideas in the 1950s working as a critic and essayist on Andre Bazin’s film mag Cahiers du Cinema. He was particularly knowledgeable about the films of Alfred Hitchcock, whose fascination with the nature of evil he shared, leading him to co-author a seminal book on the English director with Rohmer. But unlike his Cahiers colleagues, who started with short films, Chabrol plunged straight into making his first feature, 1958’s “Bitter Rupture,” benefiting from an inheritance his first wife had received.

Chabrol elicited a magnetic performance from Jean-Claude Brialy in “Cousins” as a dissolute city slicker, with Gerard Blain playing neatly off him as his tenderfoot cousin. Both thesps had already starred in “Bitter Rupture.”

A willingness to collaborate with the same actors on more than one occasion set a pattern for the rest of Chabrol’s career. Asked why, he replied with characteristic common sense: “I work with actors I know, so I can feel when they’re not happy.”

One of his most successful collaborations was with second wife Stephane Audran, who featured prominently in more than 20 of his films, including 1978’s “Violette Noziere,” a pitch black comedy about a mother-daughter rivalry that earned her a Cesar for supporting actress.

Audran’s co-star in “Violette” was Huppert, who won the actress award at Cannes for playing the daughter. It was the beginning of another fruitful collaboration for Chabrol spanning eight films, including standout roles for Huppert as an amateur abortionist in “Story of Women” (1988) and a callous killer in “A Judgment in Stone” (1995).When Chabrol finally decided to adapt Flaubert’s classic novel “Madame Bovary,” which had obsessed him ever since reading it as a teenager, he went straight to Huppert for the part of the tragically self-absorbed Emma Bovary.

Born in Paris to parents who were both chemists, he was sent away to the village of Sardent in the central Creuse region when WWII broke out. While living in Sardent he set up a cine-club, eventually returning there to shoot his first film “Bitter Rupture.”

After the war Chabrol moved back to Paris to study law but instead spent much of his time watching films at the Paris Cinematheque. During his years at Cahiers and as a publicist for Fox, Chabrol struck up a lasting friendship with the novelist Paul Gegauff, eight years his senior. Gegauff wrote earthy dialogue for many of Chabrol’s best early films, including “Cousins,” “The Good Time Girls,” “Bad Girls” and “This Man Must Die.” Chabrol’s remarkably fertile period during the late 1960s and early 1970s continued with films such as 1969’s “The Unfaithful Wife,” a cold and cynical dissection of a bourgeois marriage, and 1970’s “The Butcher,” about a serial killer’s banal quotidian existence.

Chabrol was frequently in inspired form when he adapted pulp fiction by crime writers like Ruth Rendell and Georges Simenon or when he dug into the nitty-gritty of grisly news items. He was less sure-footed when dealing with more classic source material like “Madame Bovary,” which he adapted with exaggerated respect, and “The Blood of Others,” a long-winded adaptation of a Simone de Beauvoir novel starring Jodie Foster.

In his last few years as a director Chabrol’s filmmaking was as efficient as a well-oiled machine. Pics like “Flower of Evil” (2003) and “A Girl Cut in Two” (2007) showed that he had lost none of his dramatic flair for unwrapping festering family secrets. His last feature was 2009’s “Bellamy,” starring Gerard Depardieu.

Chabrol’s sets often resembled big family gatherings, with his third wife, Aurore, providing script supervision, older son Matthieu Chabrol invariably composing the score and younger son thesp Thomas Chabrol frequently essaying a role.Survivors include third wife Aurore and four children.

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